Monday, December 14, 2015
Trader Joe’s often has the most wonderful seasonal confections. They’re often reasonably priced and unique items that are hard to find anywhere else. Many of the items at Trader Joe’s for 2015 are returning from previous years, including their cordials, passport chocolate stacks and Belgian chocolates. The newest item that caught my eye are the Trader Joe’s Chocolate Marbles.
There’s nothing particularly wintery or holiday about them. They’re just chocolate spheres filled with different pralines. There are six varieties, each sphere is then given a mottled color coating to distinguish it from the others. There are ten marbles in the package. It’s just shy of 5 ounces, so each piece is about 4/10 of an ounce. The flavors are: caramel, coconut, praline & almond, and chocolate mousse. The description on the Trader Joe’s website goes like this:
Almond Praline (Green), Hazelnut Praline (Orange), Chocolate Mousse (Blue), Coconut (White), Caramel (Brown), Crispy Cookie (Yellow)
They’re about the same size as a Lindt Lindor Truffle, but really the similarities end there.
The tray is wonderful for protecting the candies, but makes it devilishly hard to get them out, they’re tucked in there and I couldn’t quite grab a single. All I would end up doing is spinning it around in its little cup. However, once out, the slightly bumpy outside means that they’re not as rolly as some spherical chocolates. (Sixlets probably max out the scale at a 10 and these are probably about a 4 - they can sit on a flat surface but anything raked and they will go with gravity.)
The lovely medium blue marble is filled with Chocolate Mousse. The shell is dark chocolate with a milk chocolate filling. The filling is soft and creamy and definitely sweet. It’s light but I wouldn’t call it a mousse. The dark shell was different enough from the filling, but if I wasn’t told what this flavor was, I’m not sure I’d guess it. However, it’s quite different from the Lindor, it’s much more dense in flavor with less of that thin oily feel on the tongue.
The white marble is filled with a chocolate cream with Coconut. This was rather mainstream tasting, very pleasing for my American palette. This was the only one I was able to pick out by scent. The chocolate was sweet and the little crispy coconut bits did make it all pop a lot more than the more delicate praline pieces.
The brown marble is filled with two half domes of Caramel. It tastes like a lot more chocolate on this one, but the caramel holds its own. The caramel is a bit more of the saucy side than chew. The flavor is quite deep, with scorched and burnt sugar notes particularly strong. There were also a lot of milk flavors, more than the other pieces, so that may have been part of the caramel.
I think this was my favorite of the assortment, because it was so different from most American and British caramels. The only drawback I noticed after the third or fourth piece was that the colorful coating was a little waxy and though it seals in the flavors and keeps them from melting if you hold them in your hand for a few minutes ... it’s a shellac and rather tastes like it.
It’s a milk shell with a milk chocolate paste in the center and little cereal or cookie bits. It was a little malty and a little corny… when I say corny, I actually mean it tasted like corn nuts or polenta or something. It was not as sweet as some of the other milk chocolate pieces and definitely different.
Green - Almond Praline has a darker chocolate shell, though I’m not sure if it’s full dark chocolate. It balanced the almond praline pretty well. It’s not marzipan, it’s more of an almond butter mixed with a touch of cocoa and sugar. It’s sticky and satisfying, but doesn’t have a strong jolt of almond flavor.
The orange marble is filled with Hazelnut Praline. This is quite sweet but has a very good roasted hazelnut flavor. The filling is more paste with a definite crystallized sugar grain to it. It doesn’t have the smooth melt of the mousse, so it’s a bit sticky. I thought the milk chocolate shell made it all too sweet, but the lingering toasted nut flavors really kept it from being cloying afterwards.
I think these are a great hostess gift, excellent for using as an accent to a dessert plate of holiday cookies, or tossing in a little dish with some snacks. The price, for the quality and unique appearance, is quite good.
These are made in France, is suspect by the same confectioner that made the Magic Beans. The ingredients look good, all natural things, even natural colorings They contain milk, wheat, hazelnut, almond, soy, coconut. May also contain traces of chestnut, pistachio, walnut and/or eggs.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Next month Mars is introducing a new Snickers variant, the Snickers Crisper. The new bar boasts multiple textures and “delivers on [Snickers] satisfaction pledge with the chew of caramel and the crunchy crispiness of rice and peanuts.”
Like the recent Snickers Peanut Butter Squared that came out five years ago, these are actually two squares in one package instead of a single bar.
The new bar is supposed to be in response to consumers wanting healthier options. I’m not sure what would make this bar healthier than a regular Snickers, though this one has crisped rice in it, instead of nougat and is actually 12 grams lighter, which means fewer calories per serving.
Each square is about 1.25 inches on each side. They’re about two or three bites.
The bar smells well roasted and a bit like toffee. The bite is very soft, the caramel on top has a lot of give to it, but not much pull. The chew has a nice texture, with the peanut butter coated crisped rice as a highlight. It’s quite sweet though there’s also a hint of salt. I don’t get much more peanut butter or sort of thick satisfaction that I find in a regular Snickers. I do enjoy the malty notes of the rice though as well as the few peanut scattered about. I think I just wanted more peanut butter and less sweetness.
About ten years ago there was another bar called the Snickers Cruncher, which was similar: it was a peanut butter coated crisped rice bar with caramel coated in chocolate. It was all one bar and actually really good. When they disappeared in the United States, I was still able to find them in Europe (and a few sellers on eBay would import them).
Thursday, October 8, 2015
The Tasty Baking Company has been based in Philadelphia since 1914. Back in 1930 they introduced a new snack cake called the Tandy Take which was eventually renamed in 1974 to Kandy Kakes (to avoid confusion with the Tandy Company). These were the snack cakes of my childhood. I’m not sure if I had a Twinkie until I was in college,but Kandy Kakes, I’d had plenty of those.
Their most popular item is the Peanut Butter Kandy Kake (they bake a half a million a day as of 2014), which was also my favorite of their products. The Peanut Butter Kandy Kake is a disk of sponge cake (or maybe angel food cake) with a stripe of peanut butter covered in mockolate. Their second most popular item, the Butterscotch Krimpet is also a curious creation made of a sponge cake (sort of like a Twinkie) but with crinkle cut edges and a butterscotch frosting. (Pennsylvania is kind of known for butterscotch confections, see also the Boyer Smoothie cups.)
When I was growing up there was still regionalism for baked goods, Tastykake was really a local company, though recently they expanded south and also took over production of the Hostess brands including Twinkies. This year Tastykake announced West Coast distribution for their more popular items. (Though it says on their website they’re available at some of my local stores, I still haven’t found them on shelves.)
For those of you just discovering this nostalgic brand, you should catch up with this add for Tastykake, I’d say it’s from around 1975, starring Betty White:
First off, are Kandy Kakes even candy and do they belong on the blog? Well, I’ve debated about this for a while. For the past few years when I travel to Pennsylvania, I’ve usually come back with a box (or two) of the Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. They fit most of my rules for candy in that they’re sweet, portable, shelf stable and require no preparation to eat. However, they’re also baked (but then again so are Twix). I also have the same problem with chocolate covered pretzels. What pushed me over the edge with this review is the fact that Tastykake offered these new Fall flavors: Salted Caramel Kandy Kakes and Karrot Kake Kandy Kakes.
First off, Kandy Kakes is a strange name. Substituting letters in a standard word is usually an indication of lesser quality, just like chocolatey denotes something not-quite-chocolate. Not only that, Tastykake and their product line has a lot of Ks in it. A lot. It’s like they’re going for something wacky (this all predates the Kardashian ownership of the letter).
So, the name might be a bit juvenile, but maybe it’s also supposed to be delightful. Betty White said some nice things about the ingredients in her commercial in Tastykakes, but for reference here’s what’s in the Salted Caramel Kandy Kakes (yes, I transcribed all this, so forgive any spelling errors as many of these ingredients don’t come up in spellcheck):
The Salted Caramel are described as cakes with chocolate flavored coating and salted caramel filling (naturally and artificially flavored).
The large box (a half a pound) holds 6 of these packages of twin cakes. They’re actually a little weird out of the box because there’s no indication of which flavor it is. (So if I had the Peanut Butter version out of the box, I wouldn’t know ... that little BN initial on the package, what does that mean?)
There’s 90 calories per cake, so the pair is only 180 ... for 1.3 ounces, so not really a low calorie product, just its size helps with portion control.
They smell sweet, but not like anything in particular. The chocolatey coating is noticeably thin and fake. The bite is nice, the cake is soft and a little dry but that’s balanced pretty well by the caramel stripe on top. The caramel is quite salty, though there are only 95 mg per pair. The mockolate is terrible, far more noticeably terrible on the salted caramel version than the peanut butter. There’s no cocoa flavor and certainly no creamy cocoa butter experience. There’s not even any milk in that fake milk chocolate.
It’s pretty dreadful. Maybe I’m not a good judge of pastries, or petit fours or whatever category these should be in, but they’re not actually good candy.
The Karrot Kake Kandy Kakes sound good in theory. But in reality the white coating is suspiciously white. It’s not milky white, though at least this white konfectionery koating has nonfat milk in it. The coating has more titanium dioxide in it than soy lecithin.
However, they do smell good. They smell like a nice spice cake ... a little nutmeg, a little cinnamon, maybe a touch of clove and sweet milk. The bite is soft and a little more substantial than the Salted Caramel as this cake is actually carrot cake ... there’s actually carrot in there and even some raisin paste, orange puree and coconut. The white coating is filmy and there’s another creamy layer in there that’s kind of like cream cheese or perhaps unscented foot balm.
It’s a great idea but the coating completely ruins it for me. (Now, a salted caramel stripe in there and maybe an actual white chocolate coating ... but then we’re into actual petit four world, not cheap snack cakes.
The cakes are made on shared equipment with peanuts and tree nuts and contain milk, soy and coconut.
Monday, August 24, 2015
The Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Caramels (and their Milk Chocolate siblings) are a rather pedestrian extension of the Hershey’s brand. They’re sold in either a pair of caramels in a single package or a stand up bag of something less than a half a pound. The price point makes you think that this is a premium product, I paid $4.29 for 7.2 ounces.
The packaging looks nice and does a good job of protecting the freshness and attractiveness of the product, but it’s maddeningly hard to open. Each caramel is individually wrapped and of the 13 or so pieces in the bag, I was able to open two without the aid of scissors. I can only assume that this is to either help with portion control or help the consumer work off some extra calories wandering around the house trying to figure out where the good scissors went.
My frustrations with the wrappers were ameliorated by the fact that every single caramel was gorgeous. They’re lovely rounded squares with a lightly domed top of thick dark chocolate. (Well, I don’t know how dark it actually is, the ingredients only call it semi-sweet and it contains milk fat.)
They smell nice, a mixture of brownies and hot chocolate. The bite is easy and soft, but not a runny caramel like the Cadbury Caramello bar. The caramel has an excellent smooth texture and good stringy pull, but it’s not quite stiff enough to satisfy me. The chocolate is passable, smooth and not chalky, and not too sweet.
The whole experience is lacking something, perhaps I’m spoiled by my comparably priced Trader Joe’s Butterscotch which strike me as a far better deal both because the price is better, the ingredients are a bit clearer and of course they taste fantastic or the far easier to find Storck Chocolate Riesen. I don’t see Hershey’s new product line surviving in the long run, they’re just not distinctive enough.
These caramels are made in Mexico and are made on equipment that also processes macadamia nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts. Contains soy and milk. There’s no mention of gluten.
Monday, July 6, 2015
Brach’s has reintroduced their whole line of chocolate panned candies over the past two years. They’ve redone their classic Bridge Mix and now have several varieties of chocolate covered nuts. One of the surprising new items is Brach’s Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bites.
The gussetted, resealable bag holds a half of a pound. Like most other Brach’s products, the description on the package is only contained in the product name ... nothing else to go on except the very long ingredients list.
The image on the bag shows some chocolate pieces, and then a cross section of the actual candies ... sitting next to that is a rustic pretzel nugget and a little square of caramel. That is really not what the product is.
The little spheres are a great size, about the same size as a garbanzo bean or hazelnut. The milk chocolate coating is shiny and the bag had a nice sweet scent, a little on the milky side. The pieces have a good crunch, the pretzel center isn’t too hard or crumbly. The pretzel flavor was good, not too much of the washed crust that can get kind of bitter, and no big bits of salt. But upon eating the pieces, this is where the caramel part comes in. The caramel is actually little shards mixed into the milk chocolate. So at first it’s just a pretzel with some milk chocolate, but after chewing, the chocolate melts away and the starchy pretzel dissolves ... and what was left was some sort of tacky residue of hard caramel. It was weird and kind of waxy and unpleasant.
So, after a while I took to letting the milk chocolate melt away instead of crunching them up, but that was unsatisfying because then my pretzel would get mushy before the caramel bits were all gone. I’ve had other confections like almonds, that had a little toffee coating before the milk chocolate, I’m not sure why that wasn’t the process here.
I’ll pass on these in the future, which is too bad because it’s a unique selling proposition in the rather crowded field of morselized products.
Monday, June 15, 2015
Russell Stover is probably best known for the inexpensive boxed chocolates sold at drug stores. I happen to like them for their holiday novelty candies, but more recently they’ve tried to get into everyday snacking with their Big Bite pieces. At first these were just larger versions of the seasonal favorites, but more recent items are completely original to the format. The opposite spectrum of this trend is morselization ... and Russell Stover has introduced some teensy versions of their more popular items. I picked up their Russell Stover Pecan Delight Minis, which are nugget-sized pecan turtles.
These candies that have the word pecan as the first word in their name and they need more pecans. A lot more pecans. Currently they’re little pecan bits, where are nice, they’re a good textural element, but they’re not dense enough ... I need some crunch in my chewy caramel and creamy milk chocolate.
The size is good, they’re poppable. The vague sprinkling of pecans does give a woodsy maple note to the whole thing, the tough of salty is just about right. The caramel is a little too flavored and not authentically caramelized sugar and cream.
As a candy, they about as good as other morsel things at the same price. They’re certainly better than Brach’s. I can’t say that I liked these better than the Demet’s Minis, which also suffer from too few pecans, but I do think the chocolate is of better quality here. (And less expensive.)
Monday, June 8, 2015
Mars has been teasing quite a few new candy items lately, the first one to hit store shelves will be their Milky Way Marshmallow with Caramel Bar. The press release says it delivers a magnificent combination of fluffy marshmallow nougat covered with a layer of smooth caramel, enrobed in creamy milk chocolate.
Limited Edition bar should hit shelves in July or August ... when they’re gone, they’re gone. (Though sometimes Mars will bring back a limited edition item.) The Impulsive Buy readers have already spotted them in the wild.
The bar looks good. The fluffy white nougat is definitely different from the normal Milky Way nougat. The scent is also a change from the traditional Milky Way, it’s less malty, less milky smelling. There’s a slight vanilla note to it, even before biting.
It’s a very sweet but clean tasting bar. There’s no lingering malty notes, not as much of a salty hint either. It tastes fresh. So if the concept of the Milky Way bar appealed to you, but the fact that the nougat was malty was holding you back, this might be the bar for you. Is it marshmallowy? No, the texture of the nougat is not smooth, not as fluffy as actual marshmallow. However, if you’re a vegetarian, the fact that it’s a nougat (made with egg whites) and not a marshmallow (made with gelatin) might be a selling point.
The bar contains soy, egg and milk and also may contain traces of peanuts. There’s no statement on gluten.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
It’s been a while since Mars has done something new with the Snickers bar. Sure, they miniaturized it, and brought back the Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bar, but nothing innovative has come along in a few years.
Mars announced last month that they’re releasing a new limited edition bar in November nationwide. It’s called SNICKERS Mixed Nuts Bar. They bill it as a satisfying mix of peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts combined with SNICKERS® Brand caramel and nougat, all coated with creamy milk chocolate.
Mars sent me some samples of their new candy bars, so I thought I’d give a preview. I think it’s an exciting concept to include so many different kinds of nuts in one bar.
This is a strange bar, because of its mixed status there’s not quite enough of any of its elements. It smells a bit like peanuts, but not as peanutty as a regular Snickers. The nougat is salty and the caramel chewy, all the nuts are crunchy ... the almonds are especially bold and I do recall at least two hazelnuts. If I sound disjointed, that’s the bar right there. It’s a stop and a start, I kind of got going with a nice almond and then there were some peanuts. I’m more mellow than Snickers, more bold than Snickers Almond.
In addition to the milk, eggs, soy, hazelnuts, almonds, and peanuts, the bars may also contain traces of other tree nuts. There’s no statement about gluten.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.